Saturday, August 26, 2017

4 Eschatological Truths from Matthew 19:28

by Michael Vlach

One verse that is often overlooked but carries great theological significance, particularly for eschatology, is Matthew 19:28:

And Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you, that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”

The context of Jesus’ words here is His encounter with the Rich Young Ruler (19:16-26) and Peter’s question concerning what rewards the apostles would have for following Jesus (19:27). The Rich Young Ruler loved his possessions more than he desired Jesus so he would not part with his wealth. But the disciples were willing to give up everything for Jesus. So Peter asked what reward there would be for himself and the apostles who did forsake all to follow Him (Matt. 19:27). Jesus reveals great rewards including relationships and dwelling places (19:28-30). But Jesus’ answer in 19:28 also reveals four key truths concerning events to come. It is these we highlight:

First, there is a coming renewal of planet earth. This is made clear by Jesus’ use of the term “regeneration,” which is the Greek word, palingenesia. This term refers to “re-creation” or “renewal, or literally “genesis again.” In this context it refers to the recreation or renewal of the earth and parallels the glorified creation that Paul speaks of in Romans 8:18-23. It is also closely related to the “restoration of all things” that Peter refers to in Acts 3:21. Thus, Jesus sees a restored planet earth in the future in connection with the restoration of national Israel. Commenting on this term J. I. Packer states, “it denotes the eschatological ‘restoration of all things’ (Acts 3:21) under the Messiah for which Israel was waiting” (Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 925). The future involves a real tangible earth, not a wispy existence on a cloud. This truth refutes any Platonic elevation of the spiritual over the physical. The physical earth matters in God’s plans and His kingdom includes it.

Second, the Davidic throne of Jesus is future. With Luke 1:32-33, the angel Gabriel told Mary that her son would one day sit upon the throne of David. With Matthew 19:28, Jesus explicitly links His assumption of the throne of David with the future renewal of creation—“in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne.” Since the “regeneration” of the earth is future, we can know that Jesus’ assumption of the Davidic throne is future. Matthew 25:31 supports this when Jesus links His Davidic throne reign with the second coming: “But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne.”

Third, the nation Israel will be restored. Jesus also mentions the “twelve tribes of Israel” which refers to the literal twelve tribes of Israel. On several occasions, the Old Testament prophets predicted a restored Israel with a unification of the twelve tribes (see Ezekiel 36-37). The mention of the “twelve tribes of Israel” in Matthew 19:28 shows that Jesus expects a future restoration of the nation Israel with the twelve tribes present. There is no reason here to spiritualize the twelve tribes here especially since every other reference to the “twelve tribes” of Israel in the New Testament refers to literal Israel (see Luke 22:30; Acts 26:7; James 1:1; Rev. 7:4-8; 21:12). Plus all references to “Israel” in the New Testament refer to ethnic/national Israel. Thus, Matthew 19:28 is New Testament evidence for a restored and unified Israel.

Fourth, the apostles will rule over a restored national Israel. For their willingness to forsake all and follow Jesus the apostles will “sit[ting] upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” Revelation 19:15 reveals that when Jesus returns to earth He will rule the nations of the earth. With Matthew 19:28 we also see that Jesus’ apostles will share His coming reign by judging the twelve tribes of Israel. This is a literal rule over the literal tribes of Israel when the kingdom comes. So not only will Israel be united and restored, the nation will be ruled over by the twelve apostles.

Jesus’ words in Matt. 19:28 show incredible blessings to come with Jesus’ return. The planet earth will be restored, Jesus will reign as King, Israel will be restored and united, and the apostles will have ruling functions over Israel. 

Friday, July 7, 2017

The Significance of the Five Quotations of Isaiah 6:9-10 in the New Testament

by Michael Vlach

All quotations of the Old Testament (OT) in the New Testament (NT) are significant. Yet when a particular OT passage is cited multiple times, we do well to study why the NT persons and writers viewed this text as so important. Such is the case with Isaiah 6:9-10, a text quoted in the NT five times in connection with national Israel’s rejection of Jesus as Messiah.

The context of Isaiah 6:9-10 is the prophet Isaiah’s commission to disobedient Israel around 740 B.C. Isaiah’s message to Israel would not result in the nation’s repentance but would result in their being further hardened:

He [the Lord] said, “Go, and tell this people:
“Keep on listening, but do not perceive;
Keep on looking, but do not understand.”
“Render the hearts of this people insensitive,
Their ears dull,
And their eyes dim,
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
Hear with their ears,
Understand with their hearts,
And return and be healed.”

Isaiah 6:9-10 is quoted once each by the four gospel writers—Matt. 13:14-15; Mark 4:11-12; Luke 8:10; John 12:40—and once by Paul in Acts 28:26-27.

All quotations of Isaiah 6:9-10 in the NT occur in the context of national Israel’s unbelief in Jesus as Messiah and the kingdom of God He presented as “near” (Matt. 4:17). This passage is applied to Israel as a corporate entity even though some individual Jews were believing in Jesus.

In Matthew 13:14-15 Jesus applied Isaiah 6:9-10 to unbelieving Israel:

In their case the prophecy of Isaiah is being fulfilled, which says,                           
You will keep on hearing, but will not understand;
You will keep on seeing, but will not perceive;
For the heart of this people has become dull,
With their ears they scarcely hear,
And they have closed their eyes,
Otherwise they would see with their eyes,
Hear with their ears,
And understand with their heart and return,
And I would heal them.’

The context of this statement is important. According to Matthew 3:2; 4:17; and 10:5-7 the nearness of the kingdom was being presented to Israel. Matthew 10:5-7 reveals that the kingdom message at this time was only for the lost sheep of the house of Israel. The cities of Israel were the focus here. Yet according to Matthew 11:20-24 Jesus rebuked the cities of Israel for their unbelief: “Then He began to denounce the cities in which most of His miracles were done, because they did not repent” (Matt. 11:20).

Then with Matthew 12 the religious leaders of Israel expressed their rejection of Jesus as Messiah when they attributed His miracles to Satan and thus committed blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (Matt. 12:25-32). A national rejection of Jesus was occurring.

So when Jesus quotes Isaiah 6 in Matthew 13 and says “the prophecy of Isaiah is being fulfilled,” He connects Isaiah 6 with the unbelief of Israel during His earthly ministry. One might ask, “How can a prophecy of Isaiah centuries earlier be fulfilled during Jesus’ day?” The answer is that Israel is a corporate national entity with trans-generational implications. Israel’s unbelief in Isaiah’s day can be heightened or fulfilled by the unbelief of Israel during the time of Jesus’ first coming. Both in Isaiah’s day and in Jesus’ day, national Israel evidenced a hardened unbelief.

Jesus’ quotation of Isaiah 6:9-10 in connection with national Israel’s unbelief and Jesus’ giving of parables is found also in Mark and Luke:

Mark 4:11-12:
And He was saying to them, “To you has been given the mystery of the kingdom of God, but those who are outside get everything in parables, so that while seeing, they may see and not perceive, and while hearing, they may hear and not understand, otherwise they might return and be forgiven.”

Luke 8:9-10:
His disciples began questioning Him as to what this parable meant. And He said, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is in parables, so that seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.”

With John 12 the apostle John also quoted Isaiah 6:10 with some commentary:

For this reason they could not believe, for Isaiah said again, “He has blinded their eyes and He hardened their heart, so that they would not see with their eyes and perceive with their heart, and be converted and I heal them.” These things Isaiah said because he saw His glory, and he spoke of Him. Nevertheless many even of the rulers believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they were not confessing Him, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue (John 12:39-42).

Three factors are noteworthy here. First, Jesus directed the words of Isaiah 6 to Israel’s unbelief.

Second, John says that Isaiah understood his words in connection with Jesus—“These things Isaiah said because he saw His glory, and he spoke of Him.” This reveals that Isaiah had a specific messianic hope.

And third, we are told that “many” of “the rulers” of Israel “believed in Him [Jesus].” This shows that Isaiah’s words apply primarily to Israel as a corporate entity and not just to individual Jews. Even though many rulers in Israel believed in Jesus the leadership as a whole did not, even to the point of intimidating others Jewish leaders who believed. Thus, Israel’s national rejection of Jesus, even in spite of the belief of “many. . . rulers” of Israel, is cause for the application of Isaiah 6:10 to the corporate entity of Israel in Jesus’ day.

Acts 28:17-29
This last chapter of Acts describes an important encounter between Paul and “leading men of the Jews” in Rome (Acts 28:17). This gathering of Jewish leaders offers a formality to this encounter and indicates more than just a happenstance gathering of individual Jews.

Even though these Jewish leaders do not believe in Jesus Paul calls them “Brethren,” and he identifies with them by referring to “our people” and “our fathers” (28:17). He also told them, “I am wearing this chain for the sake of the hope of Israel” (28:20). Thus there is a heavy Israelite context to this encounter and Paul takes the Jewish element of this encounter very seriously. There certainly is no idea that the church has replaced the traditional concept of “Israel.”

Then we are told that these Jewish leaders came to Paul at his lodging “in large numbers” (28:23). Paul then testified about the kingdom of God and tried to persuade them concerning Jesus from the Law and the Prophets (i.e. Hebrew scriptures) from morning until evening.

The result of this all-day encounter is described in verse 24: “Some were being persuaded by the things spoken, but others would not believe.” Thus, some Jewish leaders were persuaded by Paul and believed, yet others did not believe. We are not told which of these two groups was larger but there seems to be a significant number who believed. This should not be overlooked. Some Jewish leaders believed in Jesus the Messiah.

Certainly, Paul must have been pleased with these Jewish believers but his strong words indicated that he was hoping for more. Verse 25 indicates that the two groups could not agree and this hindered a unified belief in Jesus as Messiah by Israel as a corporate entity. This led to a stinging rebuke of corporate Israel by using the words of Isaiah 6:9-10 in Acts 28:25-27:

And when they did not agree with one another, they began leaving after Paul had spoken one parting word, “The Holy Spirit rightly spoke through Isaiah the prophet to your fathers, saying,
“Go to this people and say,
‘You will keep on hearing, but will not understand;
And you will keep on seeing, but will not perceive;
For the heart of this people has become dull,
And with their ears they scarcely hear,
And they have closed their eyes;
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
And hear with their ears,
And understand with their heart and return,
And I would heal them.”’

The disagreement between the believing and unbelieving Jews led Paul to quote Isaiah 6:9-10 with its message of judgment for unbelieving corporate Israel. But why would Paul do this when some of the Jewish leaders in Rome did believe in Jesus? Should this not be considered a successful encounter since “some” Jewish leaders had believed? Kinzer asks an appropriate question:

Why does Paul respond so negatively to what Christians today might consider a rather successful evangelistic encounter? His fierce reaction appears disproportionate to the mixed attitudes of his audience.

But for Paul this was not a successful encounter. While probably encouraged by the remnant of Jewish men who believed (Rom. 11:1-6), this meeting did not result in a corporate acceptance of Jesus as Messiah by the Jewish leadership. That was what Paul was seeking—belief in Jesus as Messiah by Israel as represented by its leadership.

Concerning the encounter in Acts 28 Kinzer notes, “This scene makes little sense if we view Paul’s audience as a collection of Jewish individuals and Paul’s aim in addressing them as the ‘salvation’ of as many of them as possible.”[1] Instead what Paul was after was a communal decision of belief in Jesus as the Messiah as Tannehill points out:

The presence of disagreement among the Jews is enough to show that Paul has not achieved what he sought. He was seeking a communal decision, a recognition by the Jewish community as a whole that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Jewish hope. The presence of significant opposition shows that this is not going to happen.[2]

This encounter in Acts 28 parallels John 12 when Jesus quoted Isaiah 6:9-10 even though “many” of the Jewish leadership had believed. But in both John 12 and Acts 28 the leadership as a whole as representatives of national Israel did not believe. Thus, the condemnation of Isaiah 6:9-10 again applied.

Significance of Isaiah 6:9-10 in the New Testament
The five references to Isaiah 6:9-10 concern national Israel’s unbelief in Jesus the Messiah and a rejection of the kingdom of God. Even though some Israelites believed in Jesus and thus comprised the remnant of Israel (see Rom. 11:1-6), the lack of corporate belief by Israel brings a stinging rebuke in which both Jesus and Paul draw upon the words of Isaiah 6:9-10 for their current Jewish audiences. This situation will be reversed one day when national Israel believes in Jesus as Messiah as passages like Zechariah 12:10 and Romans 11:26 indicate.

[1] Mark S. Kinzer, “Zionism is Luke-Acts,” in The New Christian Zionism: Fresh Perspectives on Israel & the Land (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2016), 160.
[2] Robert C. Tannehill, The Narrative Unity of Luke-Acts, vol. 2, The Acts of the Apostles (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1990), 347.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Revelation 19:15 and the Coming Reign of Jesus over the Nations

by Michael J. Vlach

I often have been drawn to Revelation 19:15. This verse comes in the middle of Revelation 19:11–21, a dramatic section describing Jesus’ second coming from heaven to earth. Concerning Jesus the verse reads:

From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations; and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty.

4 Messianic Passages and Revelation 19:15
Note that the wording of Revelation 19:15 is closely connected to four Old Testament [OT] messianic passages:

Isaiah 49:2a: “And He [God] has made My [Servant’s] mouth like a sharp sword.”

Isaiah 11:4b:  “And He [Messiah] will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, And with the breath of His lips He will slay the wicked.”

Psalm 2:9a: “You [Messiah] shall break them with a rod of iron,”

Isaiah 63:2-3: “Why is Your [the Lord’s] apparel red, And Your garments like the one who treads in the wine press? ‘I have trodden the wine trough alone, And from the peoples there was no man with Me. I also trod them in My anger, And trampled them in My wrath; And their lifeblood is sprinkled on My garments, And I stained all My raiment.’”

Putting it together, the connection of these OT verses to Revelation 19:15 can be seen with the following:

From His mouth comes a sharp sword (Isa. 49:2), so that with it He may strike down the nations (Isa. 11:4b); and He will rule them with a rod of iron (Ps. 2:9); and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty (Isa. 63:2-3).

Yet even with this strong connection to four OT messianic passages, I do not think John is “quoting” the OT in Revelation 19:15. John is seeing a vision. He is writing down what he saw (see Rev. 1:11). As John writes what he saw this coincides with what the OT prophets earlier predicted since God inspired both the OT passages and John’s vision. It is no surprise that what Johns sees for the future is consistent with what the OT prophets wrote centuries earlier. John’s knowledge of the OT probably combined with what He saw, resulting in the inspired words of Revelation 19:15. Addressing how John could see real visions that coincided with OT wording, Beale and McDonough state, “Perhaps one of the reasons for the high degree of OT influence in Revelation is that John could think of no better way to describe some of his visions, which were difficult to explain, than with the language already used by the OT prophets to describe similar visions.” (“Revelation,” Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, 1087)

The Main Point
Revelation 19:15 describes a devastating show of force as Jesus comes from heaven to earth to defeat His enemies and rule the nations. This is a violent and dramatic event evidenced by the verbs “strike,” “rule,” and “tread,” and the words “the fierce wrath of God.” His first coming primarily involved Jesus’ role as Lamb and Suffering Servant (see Acts 3:18). But the second coming emphasizes Jesus’ role as the conquering Warrior-King and Judge. The Lamb is also the Lion from the Tribe of Judah (see Rev. 5:5-6).

A Future Rule
Revelation 19:15a indicates that Jesus will “strike down the nations.” The term patasso means to “strike” or “beat” and reveals a decisive defeat of God’s enemies. Since the nations of the earth are still in rebellion against God this statement awaits future fulfillment.

Then the words “He will rule them” reveal a coming rule of Jesus over the nations. The word poimaino means to “rule” or “shepherd.” Including its use in 19:15, the term is found eleven times in the New Testament. It is used most often in an authoritative sense such as in Revelation 2:27 and 12:5. A softer shepherding sense is found in Revelation 7:17 and 1 Peter 5:2. Psalm 2:9, which is alluded to in Revelation 19:15, predicted a strong coercive defeat and reign of the Messiah over the nations. The use of Psalm 2:9 in Revelation 2:26–27 and Revelation 12:5 with their wording of ruling with “a rod of iron” also points to an authoritative rule in Revelation 19:15.

The verb poimanei (“will rule”) in 19:15 is future active indicative and reveals that Jesus’ rule over the nations is future at the time of His second coming from heaven. Jesus is not coming to consummate an already kingdom reign. His second coming brings His rule over the nations. This truth is consistent with Jesus’ words in Matthew 19:28 and 25:31-32 where He stated that His Davidic throne reign awaits His second coming to earth.

 And Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you, that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matt. 19:28).

“But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats” (Matt. 25:31-32).

The Matthew 25:31 reference is particularly significant since again we see that the second coming of Jesus arrives before the judgment of the nations. Some millennial positions have Jesus’ Davidic/mediatorial/millennial reign coming to a culmination with His second coming, but this is not accurate. The second coming brings Jesus’ rule over the nations.

Currently Jesus is rightly “the ruler of the kings of the earth” (Rev. 1:5), and with the events of Revelation 19 we see this truth actualized. The Second Coming ushers in the Davidic/mediatorial/millennial reign of Jesus; it does not end it. This reign is described in the ensuing passage of Revelation 20:1-6.

Revelation 19:15 shows that Jesus smites the nations and then rules over the nations. This scenario is described in Zechariah 14 where the returning Lord (Jesus) defeats the nations trying to destroy Jerusalem but then reigns over the nations on earth, including Egypt (see Zech. 14:2-3, 9, 16-19). To limit what Jesus is doing in Revelation 19:15 to merely destroying the nations with no subsequent reign does not do justice to Zechariah 14, Revelation 19:15, or the Bible’s storyline as a whole. Jesus defeats His enemies at His second coming and rules over the nations from this point onward. This scenario strongly supports the premillennial position which posits that Jesus’s second coming brings an earthly kingdom reign.

The Sharp Sword from Jesus’ Mouth
Some have questioned adopting a more literal understanding of the book of Revelation. One alleged absurdity of such a literal approach is the mention of a sharp sword coming from Jesus’ mouth—“From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations” (19:15a). Some think that if you take Revelation literally you must believe that a literal sword comes out of Jesus’ mouth.

This type of argument, though, is silly. As mentioned earlier, this language was found in the messianic passages of Isaiah 49:2 and Isaiah 11:4 where the Messiah speaks with such authority and power that his mouth can be likened to a sword. Since a literal and grammatical-historical hermeneutic allows for metaphors, similes, and figures of speech there is no problem with understanding Revelation 19:15a (and 19:21) in a way similar to Isaiah 49:2 and Isaiah 11:4. The dramatic metaphor of a sword coming from Jesus’ mouth indicates the awesome authority and power of Jesus’ words and commands to defeat His enemies. A similar idea is found in 2 Thessalonians 2:8 which says Jesus will slay the man of lawlessness (i.e. Antichrist) with His words: “Then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming.” The mention of a sword coming from Jesus’ mouth in no way defeats a literal understanding of the book of Revelation.

Revelation 19:15 reveals that the second coming of Jesus brings a devastating defeat and rule over the nations. This event is future from our current standpoint in history and ushers in Jesus’ Davidic/millennial kingdom. The premillennial position that the second coming brings Jesus’ earthly kingdom rule over the nations is supported by Revelation 19:15.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

My New Booklet on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament

I recently released a new ebook called, How Does the New Testament Use the Old Testament?: A Survey of theMajor Views. It is published by Theological Studies Press.

This 20,000-word booklet (about 70 pages) is a summary and critique of the seven major Christian views concerning how the New Testament uses and quotes the Old Testament. Each position is explained with extensive documentation. There are about 160 endnotes.

Also, questions and objections for each view are offered. There are also four test cases where I show how the various positions address hard cases of NT use of the OT, including Matthew 2:15’s use of Hosea 11:1 and Peter’s use of Psalm 16 in Acts 2:25-28.

This booklet does not solve the NT use of the OT problem and issue, but it does offer a unique summary of the major Christian approaches as a basis for further study of this issue. It also interacts with the writings of Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., Greg K. Beale, Darrell L. Bock, Robert L. Thomas, Richard N. Longenecker, Peter Enns, Douglas Moo, J. I. Packer, S. Lewis Johnson Jr., and others.

The origin of this booklet was a paper I presented at an annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society a few years ago. The interest level in this topic of differing views of NT use of the OT was very evident at the conference. I normally have 10-15 people attend papers I do at ETS, but this presentation had to be close to 200 people with overflow out the doors. This made me think that there could be an audience for a booklet on this topic. I also have had several requests to make this research available.

The original paper was 7,500 words while this booklet has been expanded to 20,000 words. I also have a short section near the end of the book that highlights how this issue intersects with Dispensationalism and Covenant Theology. This discussion might surprise you.

This booklet is for those interested in the NT use of the OT issue. It is slightly more technical than some of my other works but I hope this will be beneficial for those interested in this topic.

I hope to offer more information on the NT use of the OT issue in the future, so stay posted!


Saturday, April 8, 2017

Understanding Luke 21:22 and the Fulfillment of All Things

because these are days of vengeance, so that all things which are written will be fulfilled.”

by Michael J. Vlach

With this post I comment on Jesus’ statement in Luke 21:22: “because these are days of vengeance, so that all things which are written will be fulfilled.” My focus is on what Jesus meant when He declared the fulfillment of all things that are written.

This verse comes in the context of Luke 21:20-24 where Jesus predicted the coming A.D. 70 destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans and the “times of the Gentiles” (21:24) in which Jerusalem will continue to be under Gentile power. With verses 20-21 Jesus says:

“But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that her desolation is near. Then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains, and those who are in the midst of the city must leave, and those who are in the country must not enter the city.”

Then comes the statement that “these are days of vengeance so that all things which are written will be fulfilled” (21:22).

Jesus’ words here directly relate to the judgment of Israel involving Jerusalem and its temple because of Israel’s rejection of Jesus the Messiah. Earlier with Luke 19:41-44 Jesus predicted the coming destruction of Jerusalem because Israel missed the “time of your visitation.” In short, Israel would face “vengeance” for rejecting Jesus the Messiah. With Matthew 24:29-31 and Luke 21:27-28 Jesus will discuss a future rescue of Israel in connection with His second coming to earth at the end of the future Tribulation Period, but in Luke 21:20-24 the focus is on “wrath” for rejecting their Messiah.

Thus, the “fulfillment of all things that were written” in Luke 21:22 is related specifically to judgement for Israel, a judgment that occurred in A.D. 70. The view of some (usually full preterists) that all Bible prophecy was fulfilled in A.D. 70 goes way beyond the context here which is focused on “days of vengeance” for Israel in the first century.

But which Bible passages predicted this vengeance so they can be fulfilled? Many rightly mention passages like Deuteronomy 28:15-68 and Leviticus 26:14-39 where God’s judgment of Israel for national disobedience was predicted. Yet I think Jesus also had a more specific text in mind. Daniel 9:26 explicitly foretold the A.D. 70 destruction of Jerusalem in connection with the killing of the Messiah. The verse reads:

Then after the sixty-two weeks the Messiah will be cut off and have nothing, and the people of the prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. And its end will come with a flood; even to the end there will be war; desolations are determined.

While there is much to unpack with this verse and the broader context of Daniel 9:24-27, Daniel 9:26 predicted two events after the sixty-ninth week of Daniel (7+62) but before the seventieth week of 9:27—the cutting off (i.e. killing) of the Messiah, and the destroying of Jerusalem and the temple. Daniel 9:27 will discuss a later desolation of the Jerusalem temple in connection with the seventieth week of Daniel, but 9:26 is an explicit prediction of the A.D. 70 destruction of Jerusalem and its temple.

So I think Daniel 9:26 was primary in Jesus’ mind when He declared, “so that all things which are written will be fulfilled,” in Luke 21:22. Another reason for holding this view is that in Matthew’s version of the Olivet Discourse Jesus explicitly referenced Daniel 9:27 when He said, “the abomination of desolation which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place” (Matt. 24:15). This affirms that Daniel 9:24-27 was on Jesus’ mind in the Olivet Discourse.

While my focus here has been on the connection between Luke 21:22 and Daniel 9:26 I want to make another observation. Luke 21:22 shows that Jesus expected the details of Old Testament prophecies to be fulfilled literally even after His first coming to earth. There is much talk today that Old Testament promises to Israel have been fulfilled with Jesus in such a way that the details of these prophecies do not need to be literally fulfilled. While all should agree that Jesus brings the Old Testament to fulfillment (see Matt. 5:17-18), we should not hold that the Old Testament promises were absorbed into Jesus in such a way that nullifies a literal fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies. On many occasions Jesus expected literal fulfillment of future events beyond His first coming (Matt. 23:39; 24:15, 29-31). And Luke 21:22 is one text that shows Jesus expected the details of Old Testament prophecies to happen just as predicted. 

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Does Revelation 20:4 Teach an Intermediate State Reign of the Saints in Heaven?

by Michael J. Vlach

Some who hold to amillennialism believe Revelation 20:4 is describing an intermediate state reign of the saints in heaven. Sam Storms, who holds this view, has even claimed that such a perspective of Revelation 20:4 is “obvious” (Kingdom Come, 457) and can be shown “beyond reasonable doubt” (458). Since “obvious” and “beyond reasonable doubt” are strong claims and if true, strongly tilt the evidence to an amillennial perspective, I want to address this issue of Revelation 20:4.

Here I examine the position that Revelation 20:4 refers to an intermediate state reign of the saints from heaven. I will argue that it does not and that there is doubt about this view. In order to do this we must first quote this passage:

Then I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given to them. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark on their forehead and on their hand; and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years (Rev. 20:4).

This great verse, which comes after discussion of the return of Jesus (Rev. 19:11ff.) and the binding of Satan (Rev. 20:1-3), describes souls, who had been beheaded for their testimony of Jesus, coming to life and reigning for a thousand years.

For some adherents of amillennialism this reign of the saints for a thousand years is occurring in heaven now between the two comings of Jesus. Thus, Revelation 20:4 describes a heavenly intermediate state reign of Jesus’ saints now. This scene does not await a future fulfillment in an earthly kingdom as posited by premillennialists because it is occurring in the present.

Sam Storms makes a robust case for this heavenly intermediate state reign position in his book, Kingdom Come, relying on similarities between Revelation 20:4 and what came earlier in Revelation 6:9-11. Revelation 6:9-11 states:

When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained; and they cried out with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” And there was given to each of them a white robe; and they were told that they should rest for a little while longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed even as they had been, would be completed also.

Storms points out that both Revelation 6:9 and Revelation 20:4 have striking similarities that indicate they are describing the same event:

--“And I saw” is found in both passages.
--“the souls of those who had been slain/beheaded” is found in both passages.
--“because of the word of God” is found in both passages.
-- “because of the testimony” for Jesus is found in both passages.

As a result of studying these similarities Storms states: “That John is talking about the intermediate state in Revelation 20:4-6 seems obvious once the parallel with Revelation 6:9-11 is noted.” (Storms, Kingdom Come, 457). G. K. Beale, who also holds the intermediate state view, says, “The parallel with 6:9 suggests strongly that the scene here is also picturing deceased saints reigning in heaven, not on earth.” (G. K. Beale, Revelation: A Shorter Commentary, 436). Storms is so confident of his view that he can deem it “beyond reasonable doubt”: “That John is describing the same scene, namely, that of the blessedness of the intermediate state, seems beyond reasonable doubt” (458). As these quotes show there is high confidence by some that Revelation 20:4 is describing a heavenly intermediate state scene.

Evaluating the Intermediate State View

As I examine this intermediate state view I think there are three beliefs that must be true for this understanding to be accurate. I will mention these three although my intent is to focus mostly on the third belief which deals with the connection between Revelation 20:4 and Revelation 6:9-11.

First, this intermediate state view must separate the timing of the reign of the saints mentioned in Revelation 20:4 from Jesus’ coming reign mentioned in Revelation 19:11ff. Most adherents of the various millennial views acknowledge that Revelation 19:11ff. describes Jesus’ second coming to earth. Yet Revelation 19:15a says that when Jesus returns He will rule the nations with a rod of iron at His second coming—“From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron.” Yet according to the intermediate state view, the reign of the saints mentioned in Revelation 20:4 must be operating in this age. If Revelation 19:15 is describing a reign of Jesus at His return then it seems odd that Jesus’ saints would be reigning in this age before His return.

Second, this intermediate state view must understand ezesan, translated, “came to life” in 20:4, in a way that does not involve physical resurrection. Storms says, “In spite of having lost their physical lives, they are raised to life together with Christ in the intermediate state (as disembodied souls) where they rule and reign with the Lord for the duration of the present church age” (Storms, 466). Yet ezesan refers to physical resurrection in Revelation 20:5, something almost universally acknowledged. But for the intermediate state view to be correct, the reference to “came to life” in 20:4 must not be physical resurrection since it allegedly describes the saints in heaven before the return of Jesus and physical resurrection. So for this view to be right the same term must be used in two different way in Revelation 20:4-5.

Third, for the intermediate state view to be correct Revelation 20:4 must be describing not only the same people as Revelation 6:9-11 does, but it must also describe similar circumstances in heaven. Storms rightly points out that all Christian scholars, including premillennialists, agree that Revelation 6:9-11 describes a heavenly, intermediate state scene, but in order for the intermediate state view to be correct, Revelation 20:4 must also be describing a heavenly scene.

Time and space does not allow a full discussion of the first two points above, which I think are difficult for advocates of the intermediate state view to prove. One can read how various scholars defend this view, but I think it is difficult to separate Jesus’ coming reign over the nations as a result of His second coming, as described in Revelation 19:15, from the reign of His saints mentioned in Revelation 20:4. The Bible presents the reign of the Messiah and the reign of the saints as occurring at the same time (see Matt. 19:28). Also, it is very difficult to maintain that ezesan (“came to life”) is used in two different ways in the same context—first life in the intermediate state in 20:4 and then physical resurrection in 20:5. So even before we get to the third point, the intermediate state view is in trouble in my opinion, and certainly not obvious.

But again my main focus is on the claim that the similarities of Revelation 6:9-11 and 20:4 show beyond reasonable doubt that Revelation 20:4 is describing the intermediate state in heaven.

To start, I agree with Storms that the people described in 20:4 are the same people spoken of in 6:9-11. Revelation 6:9 and Revelation 20:4a describe the same group—those who gave their lives for Jesus. This is not disputed and to establish this proves nothing for the intermediate state view.

But I dispute the idea that the existence of the same people (martyrs) in both passages means that these people are having the same experience at the same time. We cannot just look at how Revelation 20:4a and Revelation 6:9 compare. These clearly show the same group of martyrs. But we must also look at how Revelation 20:4b and Revelation 6:10-11 compare to each other. When we do this we see that there are major differences in the circumstances described:

Revelation 6:10-11: The saints in heaven are crying out for justice upon the earth.
Revelation 20:4b: The saints are experiencing justice because of thrones and reigning.

Revelation 6:10-11: Saints rest until full number of martyrs is completed.
Revelation 20:4b: Saints come to life and reign.

Revelation 6:10-11: Time period involves resting for a little while
Revelation 20:4b: Time period involves reigning for a thousand years.

So while there are similarities between Revelation 6:9 and Revelation 20:4a, there also are significant differences. There is a difference between saints in heaven crying out for justice upon the earth (6:9-11) and a satisfying reign of the saints taking place (20:4). Commenting on Storms’ listing of similarities between Revelation 20:4 and Revelation 6:9, Waymeyer states, “But the problem with this argument is that similarities listed by Storms merely prove that both visions refer to the same group of individuals, not that both visions describe the same experience of those individuals.” (Waymeyer, Amillennialism and the Age to Come, 241). Waymeyer is right. We must give equal justice to the people described and the experiences of these people in the two passages.

The key to understanding how Revelation 20:4 and 6:9-11 relate to each other is not by stopping with Revelation 20:4a and Revelation 6:9. The student should also compare Revelation 20:4b with Revelation 6:10-11 to get the fuller picture. To focus only on the former is to commit the fallacy of appealing to selective evidence which involves looking at part of the evidence and not all of the relevant evidence. In response to Storms’ argument Waymeyer observes, “If Storms wants to demonstrate that Revelation 6:9-11 and 20:4 describe the same experience of these martyrs in the intermediate state, he must show clear parallels between Revelation 6:10-11 and 20:4b. But these are the very parts of the passages he ignores in his comparison” (Waymeyer, 241).

As I harmonize the two passages I think a reasonable interpretation is that there is a group of martyrs in heaven in 6:9-11 who are longing for justice upon the earth. They want to know when this will occur and they were told to a wait for a while until other Christians are killed. Then with Revelation 20:4 these martyrs find satisfaction as they reign upon the earth, in the same realm in which they were persecuted.

Revelation 6:9-11 describes a longing hope, while Revelation 20:4 describes this hope satisfied. So we have the same people in 6:9-11 and 20:4 but the circumstances change. The scene of Revelation 6:9-11 anticipates the coming scene of Revelation 20:4. The key to this transition is the return and reign of Jesus the Messiah (Rev. 19:11ff.). This causes the saints to go from waiting for justice to reigning in the realm of their persecution.

Is the Earth in View in Revelation 20:4?

Perhaps at this point some might object, “But the earth is not mentioned in Revelation 20:4.” But there are several strong reasons to connect “earth” to Revelation 20:4.

First, Revelation 5:10 already stated that the destiny of the saints will involve a reign upon the “earth”: “You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.” The people who were purchased with Jesus’ blood (5:9) are destined for reigning on the earth. Revelation 20:4 is the fulfillment of this expectation.

Second, the hope of the martyrs in Revelation 6:10-11 was for vengeance upon the “earth.” This connects the martyrs with the earth. When the saints cry out for vengeance they are told to wait, not reign. Also, they are not told to forget the earth because they are already reigning. Instead, their plea for justice upon the earth is satisfied when they reign upon the earth with the reigning Messiah (Rev. 19:15; 20:4). Also, if the reign of the saints is not on earth, according to 20:4, then the hope for vengeance upon the earth goes unanswered. This is so because if the saints remain in heaven, their enemies on earth are still acting wickedly with no retribution. Remember that in Revelation 6:10-11 the hope of the saints was vengeance on earth. But if the saints are reigning from heaven with Jesus now this means their hope for vengeance on the earth goes unanswered. The saints in 6:10-11 do not see vengeance happening at that time.

Third, Revelation 19:11ff. describes the return of Jesus to earth to rule the nations of the earth (19:15). So an earthly reign is found just a few verses before Revelation 20:4. I understand amillennialists don’t believe the events of Revelation 20 chronologically follow the second coming of Jesus in Revelation 19, but the near context speaks of Jesus’ return to earth to reign over the nations. The close connection between Revelation 19:15 and 20:4 is significant. The argument that Revelation 20:4 has nothing to do with the earth when a few verses earlier Jesus is said to rule the nations is not a good one in my opinion.

Fourth, Revelation 20:8-9 reveals that when the thousand-year reign is over, the “nations” “in the four corners of the earth” come against “the beloved city,” [i.e. Jerusalem]. Again, “earth” is in the context of Revelation 20.

In sum, to say that since the word “earth” is not found in Revelation 20:4 there is no earthly reign in 20:4 does not make much sense.

Summary of the Two Positions

Below is a summary of the two positions regarding Revelation 6:9-11 and 20:4 discussed above side by side:

Amillennial Intermediate State View
Subjects: Martyrs in both passages
Location: Heaven in both passages
Timing: The period between Jesus’ two comings
Experience: Rest and Reigning in heaven

Premillennial View
Subjects: Martyrs in both passages
Location: Heaven in Revelation 6:9-11; earth in Revelation 20:4
Timing: The Tribulation Period shortly before Jesus’s second coming in Revelation 6:9-11; after Jesus’ second coming in Revelation 20:4
Experience: Rest and waiting for justice on the earth from heaven in Revelation 6:9-11; reigning on the earth after Jesus’ second coming in Revelation 20:4.


Part of the reason I did this post was because I thought the confidence level of some for the intermediate state view of Revelation 20:4 was too high. I do not think the intermediate state position of Revelation 20:4 is “obvious” or has been proven “beyond reasonable doubt.” The view that Revelation 20:4 is describing a future reign of the saints on the earth is more likely in my opinion. 

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